Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Money & Happiness

Rubin's July chapter, "Buy Some Happiness", focuses on the relationship of happiness and money. She looked at studies about the subject and concluded: "...studies show that people in wealthier countries do report being happier than people in poorer countries, and within a particular country, people with more money do tend to be happier than those with less. Also, as countries become richer, their citizens become less focused on physical and economic security and more concerned with goals such as happinesss and self-realization. Prosperity allows us to turn our attention to more transcendent matters - to yearn for lives not just of material comfort but of meaning, balance, and joy." (p.166)

Back in 2008, I led a discussion on this blog about Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss. Two of the happiest countries in the book, countries who actually had Gross National Happiness Indexes, were Nepal and Thailand. Neither country is rich, and their inhabitants make considerably less than Americans, who scored much lower on the happiness scale in Weiner's book. This may be connected to Rubin's finding that people are happier when they live in a neighborhood with people who make similar salaries and have a similar level of job achievement. Like is apparently happier with financial like.

Rubin eventually concludes that "both money and health contribute to happiness mostly in the negative; the lack of them brings much more unhappiness than possessing them brings happiness." (p.169) She also decided that indulging in a modest splurge will help increase her happiness provided that she spent it in a way specifically designed to do so, but that eventually the happiness buzz will wear off and she will have forgotten about it.

I personally don't agree with Rubin about some of her conclusions about money and happiness. I spent a number of years living in a cheap studio apartment in a very nice (but still inexpensive at the time) neighborhood. I paid little rent. I also had almost no natural light due to a dearth of windows. When I moved to my current apartment, I was overwhelmed by actually seeing sunlight. Every day, I feel happinees and gratitude over the fact that I had enogh money to move to an apartment with more than one window. I have friends who years afterwards still talk about how moving to their current (and more expensive) apartment changed their life for the better. None of us are living in luxury, but our current abodes are much better than our old ones. We are still grateful for the fact that we had enough money to move.

In July, Rubin decides to spend her money on needful things that will make her happy. For example, she buys some new shirts that are her dream shirts. This lets her have a small number of clothes that she wears regularly rather than many that she ignores because they aren't right. She also buys an expensive blender, which she uses ever day. In short, she tries to spend on quality items that will also improve her quality of life.
However, she also seems to focus mostly on how these things and consumption in general cause happiness.


Tony R. said...

Frederick Hertzberg published a landmark study in 1959 called The Motivation to Work. In it, he noted that while people need enough income to satisfy their basic needs as well as some extras, there is a limit to improving one's satisfaction level by constantly getting more things. We all have an individual level of satiety and once we reach it, being showered with more money or trinkets will not trigger a corresponding increase in happiness. The challenge is that different people can have entirely different standards for where the "luxury threshold" is. This is complicated by our modern economy which depends in many ways on getting people to buy things that they don't really need to keep others employed (so that they can fill their basic needs!!!).

Anonymous said...

Consumption is certainly a hot-button issue in America. "Making it" always seems to include a monetary and materialism component. However, I think that meaningful objects have the most lasting effect on one's personal happiness. And I think the biggest jump is from NOT having to FINALLY having... that first car, computer, home (rent or owned). The positive effect of that acquisition is often stark, meaningful and can have an enormous impact on one's consciousness of one's happiness. On the other hand, upgrading your BMW every 3 years to the newest model will barely make a ping in one's happiness meter, I believe. That's because the memory of the LACK of a car is too remote, and impact of the new acquisition too diluted. Maybe that's why we have a nation of shop-a-holics!

Tracey said...

Anonymous, you should read Rubin's section on creating a treasure trove of happy memories. I'm going to post on that concept next.

Paul B. said...

The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees. Just give me money! That's what I want!